updated 10:30 am EDT, Tue September 21, 2010
MetroPCS first to switch on LTE in US
MetroPCS had the distinction today of being the first to switch on an LTE-based 4G network in the US. Its service, starting in Las Vegas, is potentially much faster than even WiMAX Moving to the faster speeds improves web browsing and makes possible media streaming that wasn't an option before; RealNetworks is supplying a video service with video from BET, NBC and Univision.
The service "initially" costs $55 for unlimited US calls, text messaging and data. A $60 tier's differences aren't clear beyond the addition of the RealNetworks portion. MetroPCS expects to fill out its entire coverage area with 4G throughout the year.
Only one device is launching with 4G so far. The expected Samsung Craft isn't a smartphone like Sprint's Epic 4G but aims for the higher end of the feature range, with a full HTML browser, a 3.3-inch AMOLED touchscreen, a 3.2-megapixel rear camera, GPS and Wi-Fi. It has little memory inside but ships with a 2GB microSD card preloaded with the JJ Abrams Star Trek movie ready to go.
The Craft sells for $299 off-contract after a $50 rebate. Modems, smartphones and other devices should come later but haven't been detailed.
MetroPCS' network is currently data only and still needs CDMA for voice but nonetheless represents the start of a major change in cellular networks in the US. Verizon is poised to launch its network at the end of the year in 30 cities, while AT&T is due to take its own network live in mid-2011. Verizon estimates that LTE gives speeds between 5Mbps and 12Mbps in the real world. The technology is low-latency enough to handle high-quality video calls as well as multiplayer games, and it's expected in the long term to replace landline Internet access for those in rural areas or who can't get reliable speed in urban areas.